March 30, 2018
Jesus suffers as an innocent man. The chief priests and elders bring two main charges against Jesus to Pilate. They accuse him of being a blasphemer on which account he should be punished according to Jewish law. And they accuse him of being an insurrectionist, that is, one who conspires to overthrow the government, which of course would call for him to be punished under Roman law. Yet, Pilate doesn't find him guilty of insurrection. Jesus clearly says that his kingdom is not of this world, which means that it is no threat to Pilate or the Roman government. And as we heard on Sunday from Luke's account of the Passion, Pilate even sent Jesus over to King Herod and he found no guilt in Jesus. Two rulers, whose number one concern was squashing insurrection confidently found no cause for alarm in Jesus and declared him innocent of any crime. Jesus was innocent according to Roman Law.
So, the Jews had to resort to their first charge, which they had brought against Jesus before Annas and Caiaphas: the charge of blasphemy. "We have a law," said the Jews to Pilate, "and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God." Now, according to the Law, which the Jews received through Moses, a blasphemer should be put to death (Leviticus 24:16). But Jesus is no blasphemer. Yes, he claims to be the Son of God. But he is the Son of God. So said the angel at the announcement of his birth, and so did his many works and true teachings verify throughout his ministry. Jesus was innocent according to God's Law.
It is interesting that the Jews resorted to the charge of blasphemy. Pilate, a Gentile, had no interest in blasphemy laws and certainly didn't want to put someone to death for an offence against a non-Roman law. This shows that Jesus' trial was a complete sham and his condemnation came at the behest of an angry mob, although he had done no violence.
Yet, the Jews ironically were correct about one thing. According to the Law, Jesus ought to die. Yet, not as they meant it. The Law did not require that Jesus die, because he was a blasphemer. (Jesus is no blasphemer!) The Law required that Jesus die, because he indeed is the Son of God. The word Law does not only refer to the commandments given through Moses, which governed the people of Israel for about a millennium and a half before Jesus' crucifixion. The Law refers to the whole council of God, which is revealed in the Scriptures. And throughout the Scriptures it is made clear that the Christ, who is both David's Son and David's Lord (Psalm 110:1) must die for the people.
And so, we recognize that something much greater is going on than what we see. Jesus is found innocent of both blasphemy and insurrection, yet he is condemned to death by human courts anyway. Yet, in heaven, God the Father finds him innocent of every crime and sin, in fact, he is the only innocent man ever to live! Yet, God too condemns him to death, yet not only for the crime of insurrection and for blasphemy. God the Father condemns his Son for every crime committed in our hearts, mouths, and hands. Our hymn describes it very personally,
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered Was all for sinners' gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! 'Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with thy favor, And grant to me thy grace.
We aren't having a funeral tonight. Nor are we mourning the unfortunate death of an innocent man. Rather, we are celebrating the truth. Jesus is fulfilling Scripture! Jesus said to Pilate, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." Throughout Jesus' ministry he bore witness to the truth through his teaching. And now at his darkest hour, he carries out the truth of Scripture fulfilling what was spoken by the prophets.
You can only imagine what Scripture passages must have been racing through Jesus' mind during the hours leading up to the cross, as he prayed drenched in bloody sweat in the garden, as he waited in captivity in Caiaphas' house before being led to Pilate, and as he carried his cross to Golgotha. Some of the passages we know, as Jesus cited Isaiah 53 that he must be numbered with the transgressors. Yet we know that Jesus was fully aware of every line of Scripture that he fulfilled as he fulfilled them. We know how Jesus cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!", as recorded in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark. Yet, Jesus was well aware that he was fulfilling the rest of Psalm 22, which he was quoting: verse two, "O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest;" verse six through eight, "But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 'He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!'"; Psalm 69:21, "They give me poison for food, and for my thirst they give me sour wine to drink."; and Zechariah 12:10, "When they look on me, on him whom they have pierced."
Yes, Jesus' crucifixion was clearly foretold in Scripture and Jesus bears witness to its truth with bitter pain and flowing blood. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is an historical fact. John the Evangelist writes of his own eyewitness, "But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness- and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth- that you also may believe."
It is clear that Jesus' crucifixion is a true story and that this event proves the truth of Scripture. Yet, the truth is not complete simply by recognizing the historical facts. The truth also includes the meaning and purpose of the historical facts. As Jesus bore his punishment during those excruciating hours he not only meditated on the Scriptures, which foretold of this event. He comforted himself in his affliction with the prophecies, which proclaimed the great good his suffering would gain.
Jesus, no doubt, as he hung dying on the cross meditated on that first messianic prophecy spoken by God to the serpent in the newly fallen garden of Eden, "I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." And our Lord was consoled by this ancient passage knowing that even as his life left him, he was delivering the victory blow to Satan on behalf of the children of Eve.
Jesus certainly remembered the first Passover, as it was recorded in Exodus 12 and knew that the blood of the lambs spread on the door posts of the homes of the people of Israel pointed to his own blood, which now causes the angel of death to pass over us. Christ remembered Zechariah 9:11, As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit." He knew from Isaiah 53 that he was bearing the iniquities of us all and that his passion was earning eternal life for many.
Our Lord was comforted even on the cross knowing that his passion saved you from eternal death. And we can be certain that even as Jesus prayed for you in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he prayed not only for his disciples, but for all who would believe through their words (John 17:20), so he also had his mind on you as he labored on the cross, suffering willingly, because it gained you salvation.
Millions of pages have been written on the meaning of Christ's passion on the cross. But it is God, who determines the true meaning of Christ's crucifixion. And he reveals this meaning through his apostles. St. Paul writes, "we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." (2 Cor. 5:14-15) Jesus died for all people. There is no one that does not include. What does this mean? God tells us again through St. Paul, "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation."
God does not count the trespasses of the world against them, because he counted them against Christ, who was punished for them. God has reconciled the entire world to himself. He is at peace with the world. He has forgiven all sinners. This is the ground on which the ministry of reconciliation rests! The Gospel is that God is reconciled to you. When God's ambassadors declare, "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!", they are not telling you to earn your reconciliation or do something that will appease God's anger. They are telling you that God has already reconciled you to himself, he has already forgiven you for Christ's sake. Believe it!
Your faith is true only if what you have faith in is true! You can't believe that God is reconciled to you and has forgiven you unless he has already reconciled you to himself and forgiven you. You aren't going to get God to forgive you by believing that he forgives you. You simply believe what is true. The truth is that Jesus Christ died on the cross according to the Scriptures, as many eye witnesses have proclaimed. And the truth is that this death God credits in your favor. God put to death sin in Christ's body, so that you might be righteous. This is the Gospel truth!
What can we learn from this historical fact, which we remember this evening? We learn that it truly happened. We learn that Scripture foretold that it would happen. We learn that it is for our sins that Jesus died. And above all, we learn that God is pleased by this death and is reconciled to you by it. Through this work of Christ on the cross, you have peace with God. The work has been done. You need only have faith.
May the remembrance and celebration of Christ's passion tonight bring to your heart true repentance of your sins, which themselves laid the blows against Jesus and bring you true faith in the benefit of Christ's death, that God is not angry with you, but forgives you for the sake of this precious blood. Amen.